In Brief: Hot Composting 101 – Comprehensive Guide
Composting is a fairly simple process, but there are a few things you need to know before getting started to ensure that you are giving your compost pile all of the things it needs to provide the nutrients and minerals that will be of value to your plants. New gardeners can use this hot composting 101 comprehensive guide to speed up or start a new garden bed using nutritious hot compost.
This is a detailed guide on what Hot Composting is, its benefits and more.
Hot composting is a method by which the cultivator optimizes the microbial activity in a compost pile. As a result, the compost is done in a shorter period.
It needs time, diligence, and know-how. If you are ready to start a new garden bed, keep reading to find out everything you need to know about hot composting.
What Is Hot Composting?
Hot composting basics are not difficult to understand, but the actual monitoring and method might be quite tricky.
Hot composting is based on heating up a pile of compost and ensuring optimal temperature in order to speed up the production of compost. A good size for this is often recommended 4 ft x 4 ft.
The bigger the pile, the better it is considered to be, as a small pile will not heat up to an optimal temperature. It is recommended to leave the pile in full sun; otherwise, the shade can slow the entire process.
The entire principle of hot composting is to reach the right temperature. In order to do this, it’s required to use a large quantity of organic matter with the correct nitrogen to carbon ratio.
The correct proportions are needed in order to start the microbial activity that will heat up the pile. Most experts recommend 25 parts of carbon to one part of nitrogen.
Some ideas for carbon-rich ingredients include:
- Shredded paper
- Small twigs
- Dry leaves
These need to be supplemented using nitrogen-rich ingredients, such as:
This video gives some great tips on how to start your hot compost pile at home:
History of Hot Composting
Composting dates back to the prehistoric era when people discovered that mixing manure from their animals with organic waste, such as straw and other residues, would turn into a fertile material that nourished the crops.
Composting had been a pillar of farming until the 20th century when people started to use different synthetic fertilizers.
Composting met its fame in India, where Sir Albert Howard, who was a government agronomist, established the Indore method.
His approach used three parts clippings and one-part kitchen waste and manure, which were arranged in layers and mixed from time to time. His ideas were presented in the book entitled “An Agricultural Testament”, published in 1940.
How to Use Hot Composting
After choosing the materials from the list above, making hot compost is relatively straightforward. A fork or shovel for turning and a compost thermometer are required for the following process:
Chop all the organic matter, ensuring that there are small pieces only and mix them well. Add a shovel of soil or already-made compost as they are rich in the microorganisms that will start the process.
- Sprinkle Water
As the pile is built, sprinkle water frequently to ensure that the materials are moist. The pile should be approximately 1 cubic meter. If a breathable tarp is available, this could be used to cover the pile and maintain the moisture, but it is not mandatory.
- Record Temperature
Over the next 30 days, you need to record the temperature of the pile each day using the thermometer. In the first 1-5 days, the thermometer should show a rising temperature between 49 and 77 degrees Celsius or 120-170F. This differs according to the size of the pile and moisture level.
- Turn the Pile
After 4-7 days, the temperature might decrease below 43 degrees Celsius or 110F. At this point, the pile needs to be turned over to add more oxygen to heat it back up. When turning, the exterior materials need to be brought inside, allowing for an even breakdown. If the pile looks too dry, more water can be added; however, this calls for caution as the pile will cool down if it is too wet.
- Monitor the Pile
Keep monitoring the pile each day and turn it every 4-5 days when the temperature drops. After about 2 weeks, the compost will change its appearance. After 1 month, the pile should be dark, crumbly, with a temperature below 29 degrees Celsius or 85F. Let the compost cure for another 2 weeks before using it.
Maintaining the hot compost pile requires patience and skill. The two parameters you need to focus on are soil temperature and moisture, but also turning the pile at the right time.
The optimal temperature of hot compost is between 130F and 140F. If a thermometer is not available, you can put your hand in the pile – if it feels very hot, it is probably at the right temperature.
After 130F, the microorganisms start to break down the organic matter and reproduce massively. This temperature is also sufficient to kill any bacteria or weed seeds.
Moisture also needs to be monitored as a dry pile diminishes the microbial activity. The pile should look spongy; if too wet, this can stop the decomposition, and foul odors come out of the pile as the anaerobic microbes take over the process.
One problem might appear if, for instance, you make the pile too wet.
This can be solved by turning the pile and adding shredded paper or high-carbon materials that will soak up the water. If it rains, a tarp can be used to cover the pile.
In some cases, the compost pile might have a strong odor or seems slow to decompose.
This situation shows that the heap is too acidic, which might be because of the too many wet ingredients, or perhaps using acidic ingredients from the start, such as adding citrus fruit.
This can be solved by adding wood ash into the mix, but also other dry ingredients if the pile is too wet.
How to Use Hot Composting
To make hot composted soil for general use, you can mix two parts of compost with one part sieved soil and one part vermiculite for better drainage. You can also make potting soil by adding two parts soil, one-part compost, and one-part sharp sand.
If you are planning on using animal manure in your garden, make sure you watch this video first:
Compost soil is a great asset to any garden. It can be used on any bed and borders.
Since its versatility is endless, it can be either forked in the soil or simply left on the surface as a mulch.
This works as replenishing the soil with various nutrients that will help you get better and healthier crops and plants.
Benefits of Hot Composting
People use hot composting for different reasons. Most of them wish to improve and nourish their soil or the environment.
When compost is mixed with soil, it becomes darker and, thus, warming up quicker during spring. Compost adds numerous nutrients to the soil, improving its quality.
For instance, it makes the soil structure granular, ensuring that it retains more oxygen. Another benefit is that it holds moisture, ensuring the better health of the plants.
The compost allows the soil to soak rain easily, which prevents soil erosion.
Finally, using compost as opposed to petrochemicals, natural gas, and other components of synthetic fertilizers helps the environment. Hot composting often recycle many materials and waste that would otherwise go to landfills.
Hot compost depends on different factors. Generally, it is ready when it has a crumbly, dark texture and is mostly broken down. It should have a pleasant smell with a soil-like, earthy odor.
Although most soft organic materials, such as hay, leaves, seaweed, grass clippings, and most veggie cuttings, are ideal for the heap, there are a few products that should not be used. Some examples of these ingredients include meat products, eggs, fats, bones, dairy, pet or human feces, or wood that was pressure-treated.
This depends on your climate. For instance, if the winter months do not have freezing temperatures, you could make compost all year round. Otherwise, the freezing temperatures will slow down the pile significantly, and, if the nitrogen level rises too much, the pile can freeze. If this happens, you can keep adding materials and wait for warmer temperatures that will defrost the pile. Then, it will start decomposing again.
A well-managed compost should not attract rodents or other local animals. If this is the case, it might be because you added meat, fats, or cooked food to the pile. A solution might be to move the materials in a closed container or bin that has a locking lid.
All in all, hot composting has become more and more popular nowadays.
It is not only a green solution to boost the nutrients in the soil, but also a method of reusing the organic materials around your home and garden.
With time and patience, these can turn into a hearty pile that is ready to nourish all your crops and plants, maintaining them thriving for a long time.